• Dec 8, 2011

In a commercial market where "change" is a four-letter word, Ford has a lot of explaining to do.

It is not often that an automaker decides to dump a best-selling vehicle line, one that's dominated its segment for decades. But Ford's commercial vehicle team is doing it not once, but twice. Ford had been phasing out its Panther platform for a good five years before it finally ceased production of its Police Interceptor and Lincoln Town Car livery offerings in September. Now the company is set to do similarly with its E-Series van, which will eventually be replaced by Ford's Transit, the venerable European equivalent. Ford divulged a few more details about its commercial vehicle plans at a press event in Dearborn yesterday.

When the final Panthers rolled off the assembly line in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, Ford was left with no direct replacement. Instead, the company plans to sell the compact Transit Connect van in the taxi market, upgraded Tauruses and Explorers as police cars, and a "Town Car" version of the Lincoln MKT crossover to livery operators. All things being equal, these are significantly better products than their Panther-based predecessors, yet in a commercial market where "change" is a four-letter word, Ford has a lot of explaining to do.

The company's transition from the E-Series to the Transit certainly seems simpler on the surface, as it's a model-for-model substitution, but that's not exactly the case. When it launches the North American Transit in 2013, Ford says the new van will be available in multiple body styles, with different roof heights and with multiple engine options, greatly expanding the choices available to its commercial customers. And those who just want to buy a plain, white E-Series will still be able to do so, as Ford will not be discontinuing the model, at least not initially.

Ford will not be discontinuing the E-Series, at least not initially.

"We have a transition plan," said Doug Scott, Ford Truck Group Marketing Manager, but he declined to specify how long Ford will continue to build the E-Series after the Transit goes on sale, saying only that selling both vehicles concurrently, "will give us enough time to prove out Transit and win [customers] over."

Scott did say the plan to phase out the E-Series was not sales-dependent, as Ford clearly does not want the E-Series to linger on like the Panther cars did. But Ford will actually continue to build the E-Series in chassis and cutaway cab form at its Ohio Assembly facility in Avon Lake in suburban Cleveland. This plant will be devoted entirely to commercial chassis production, with Ford's Super Duty F-650 and F-750, and F-53 and F-59 models also being produced there. The F-53 is primarily a Class A motorhome chassis; the E-Series chassis is also popular for motorhomes.

While the E-Series has been the best-selling commercial van in the U.S. for 32 years with over 8 million sold, the Transit has been similarly successful in Europe, where it's a best-seller both on the continent and in the U.K. Total Transit production has topped 6 million units, and it's sold around the world in many different configurations. Unlike the E-Series, it's a unibody vehicle, but with the flexibility to be offered in front-, rear- or all-wheel-drive. In Europe it has primarily been available with turbo-diesel engines, although for the U.S., Ford will certainly offer it with a gasoline engine. We are told that Ford has yet to decide which of its North American engines will be fitted under the hood, but that anything is possible, even a V8.

The Transit will offer a 25-percent improvement in fuel economy, thanks in part to a roughly 300-pound weight savings.

Ford says the transition to Transit makes sense for customers because the Transit will offer a 25-percent improvement in fuel economy, thanks in part to a roughly 300-pound weight savings, but without any sacrifice in durability or capability. By switching to a global platform, Ford expects to save money while being able to offer more frequent product refreshes, while also being better able to cope with increasing regulatory expenses.<

Discontinuing the Panther platform opened the doors to increased competition in those segments, including the Nissan NV200, which won New York City's "Taxi of Tomorrow" competition, and GM's rear-drive Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle. But Ford seems better poised to maintain its market share in vans. To that end, it has been testing various European Transits with its biggest fleet customers, including FedEx and Frito Lay, getting feedback to make sure its North American Transit hits the mark when it goes on sale in 2013.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think Detroit knows gas is going to $5-gallon.
      • 3 Years Ago
      About time, the E Series is a dinosaur. Be smart and at least bring a Turbodiesel as an option Ford!
      • 2 Years Ago
      My wife and I just bought a 2011 Transit Connect, XLT, and she really loves it, it is her work vehicle. It has windows in the rear doors and the side and an extra seat for her workers. It has everything she needs and looks great.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Venerable because it can almost beat a Jag around the Nurburgring? I love the part where she overtakes a cafe motorcycle at 1:14 of part 2. Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQJKQjXpGQA Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KiC03_wVjc
      • 2 Years Ago
      With gas reaching the $4.00 mark, why did Ford stop making the Ranger? A four cylinder Ranger with a manual transmission was the cheapest truck on gas in the world. I drove a 1992 Ranger XLT four cylinder with a manual transmission when gas was between .99 & $1.50 a gallon. I loved it. Who wants to drive a F150 at over $4.00 a gallon? Ford, you need to make another four cylinder truck a.s.a.p.!
      • 3 Years Ago
      There's a reason why the transit is the van of choice w bank robbers in the UK for many years ! If you doubt the ability of the transit to "haul" go to youtube and see the video top gear did w BMW hotshoe Susan Schmidt (sp?) driving a transit diesel around the nurimburg (sp?) race track w this gal driving passing everything in sight, including some very fast cars and bikes !! I plan on buying a diesel 6sp manual transit after the dust settles to convert into a light RV and travel w 40mpg hwy. I've been a van converter since 1973 and I love the econoline, but they are ancient tech like do they still have the twin I beams? Wouldn't stand a chance keeping up with the transit hauling a load or on a track. Yes I want my van to handle well in a corner or where ever. Bring the transit on......... lets have fun with it
        • 2 Years Ago
        But will it pull a ditchwitch or bobcat?
      • 2 Years Ago
      they should make the cutaway with a pickup box
      • 2 Years Ago
      the van is nice but much too high for most Garage doors and entrances to private homes . I do home improvements and my e series either just makes it or is still too high.
        • 2 Years Ago
        The current E-series van is 82.4" tall. The current Transit rwd swb low-roof is 81.6" tall.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I hope they put a big enough (gasoline) power plant in it. I pull a 24 ft travel trailer with my 2008 E350 Wagon. I'll even take the V6 EcoBoost which does better than the old pathetic 2 valve 5.4L it has now.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Will the uni-body design effect the ability to create 4x4 conversion vans?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yes. The Transit is already offered in a ridiculous amount of varieties. Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, four wheel drive.. http://www.ford.co.uk/cs/BlobServer?blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobcol=urldata&blobheadervalue1=attachment%3Bfilename%3D%22New+Ford+Transit+eBrochure+and+specification.pdf%22&blobheadervalue2=abinary%3Bcharset%3DUTF-8&blobheadername1=Content-Disposition&blobheadername2=MDT-Type&blobheader=application%2Fpdf&blobwhere=1214410145000&blobkey=id
        • 2 Years Ago
        No need. Already available as a factory option on certain versions.
      • 3 Years Ago
      ryan: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/venerable
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ryan: venerable means it is highly respected.
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